Worship at Home Sunday 30th August

This weekend we would usually be in a field near Kettering. Actually the grounds of a stately home – Boughton House, the current home of the Greenbelt Festival. This year the festival could not take place outdoors for the first time in 46 years. Instead an online festival was held with the theme ‘Wild at Home’ and today we will share in the Great Big Festival Picnic at 12.30.

Today the theme of our service is ‘Through the Looking Glass’ as we hear about the disciples seemingly having to enter a different world from that which they are used to – something we have all had to do in recent months. The picture is from a light sculpture at Greenbelt a few years ago and looks like it could be a gateway into a different world!

If you would like to join the Great Big Picnic – you can do so on YouTube or Facebook at 12.30:

Worship at Home Sunday 30th August

Year A Ordinary 22  Matthew 16: 2-28

Through the Looking Glass

The other day I was trying to undo the chain that I was wearing around my neck. It has one of those fiddly little spring hooks on it. It was tricky, because every movement I made was reversed in the mirror and my brain couldn’t quite work out which way I had to move to undo the clasp. The problem with mirrors: – everything works the opposite way to the way your brain expects it to work!

I think that Peter might have felt a similar kind of frustration in the conversation he has with Jesus in this reading from Matthew’s  gospel.

From last time you may remember that Peter had declared Jesus to be the ‘Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Jesus had blessed him and told him that he was: ‘Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’.  But Jesus had then made it clear that the disciples should keep this information  to themselves.

Now, Jesus begins to tell the disciples what this really means: He will have to go to Jerusalem and there he will undergo great suffering at the hands of the authorities. He will  be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  To Peter, this seems to be the opposite of what needs to happen to a Messiah. If Jesus is truly the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God” – doesn’t this mean he has all this power? Shouldn’t they now be sitting down to work out tactics and strategy? Make a plan to overthrow the current rulers and install Jesus as the new King of all?

But Jesus, who has just rewarded Peter for recognising him as Messiah, now rebukes him: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”. Peter who, moments before had been ‘The rock’ on which Jesus would build his church has now become a rock on the path  to stumble over.

Jesus tells him that this is because Peter is thinking in the wrong way. He is focussing his mind on human things instead of divine things – he is thinking as the world thinks – not as God thinks. The world sees power as wielded through might, strength and force, but Jesus sees it wielded through humility, gentleness, truth and kindness.

This is Peter’s ‘Looking Glass moment”. In his commentary, Tom Wright likens it to the Looking Glass world of Lewis Carroll. In the story of “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, Alice discovers that if you want to go somewhere in that looking glass world, its no good trying to walk towards it – when you look up you will find yourself further away from your destination than ever. In order to get there you must walk in what seems to be the opposite direction. I think Peter may feel that he has entered just such a world as Jesus explains that to wield power as Messiah, to enter the reign of the Kingdom of God, he must in fact allow the elders and chief priests and scribes to arrest him and have him put to death, This is very the opposite of what Peter thinks should happen. 

However, although Jesus’ enemies may appear to have won when Jesus dies on the cross that is not the case at all. All this has to happen to enable his resurrection on the third day. Jesus will then be raised from the dead, will be glorified as king and will dispense justice to the world. For the moment though, how this can be remains a mystery to the disciples.

I wonder though how often we are like Peter in this moment?  We become stumbling blocks to the progress of the kingdom plan because our thinking remains focussed on human things instead of divine things – thinking in one direction when we should be looking in the glass to see things in the opposite way? God thinks very differently to the way that we do and if we want to take our place in his great plan we have to learn to think as he does – not as the world thinks For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Cor 3:19).

As we think about our situation now in the CoVid crisis and consider how we might return to worshipping in our church buildings: – what are the things we are focussing on; and what are the divine things we should be addressing instead?

Perhaps as we think about these things we should be thinking about questions like: – what are the things that really help us to further god’s kingdom here, where we are? And which are those things that  we could really leave behind? What are those things that have made us tired and weary and lacking in the energy we need to further the kingdom in other ways? Perhaps they are burdens we should put down at the feet of Christ.

Jesus goes on to tell the disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”.  If we want to follow Jesus we have to take up our cross and follow him. 

In Jesus’ time, crucifixion was a common sentence and the condemned were made to carry their crosses through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of crucifixion just as Jesus did. Jesus is saying that this is the level of sacrifice and self denial we should be prepared for if we want to follow him.   We need to devote everything – there are no half measures when it comes to following Jesus. I like the metaphor that Tom wright draws with learning to swim: “If you keep your foot on the bottom of the pool you’ll never work out how to do it. You have to lose your life to find it. Whats the use of keeping your feet on the bottom when the water gets too deep? You have the choice: swim or drown” . We have to give up that apparent safety if we want o make progress.

When Jesus says “For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (vs 25), I wonder how it would be if we replaced word ‘life’ for ‘church’? For many of us it is almost the same thing – our lives are so embedded in the life of the church. It’s that looking glass kind of thinking again. If we want to save our life / church we need to be prepared to give it up. The more we try to hang on to what we have, the more we will lose of it. But If we are prepared to give up the life / church we have then God will lead us to something new and more wonderful. 

Again we need to ask ourselves how we should be applying this thinking to our situation right now. Many of us may be keen to get back to the church life we had before Covid struck. The ways of worshiping, the activities that we spent our time on. But it may not be possible, if at all for all of them to return as they were before. Perhaps God is actually saying that we need to let some of them go. In return we  may find new and more effective ways to communicate the gospel message, we will truly find the way to the kingdom for as Jesus says: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (vs 26). 

Sometimes churches seems to be busy, active, successful places – but over time their thinking has become so focussed on human things instead of divine things that they have ceased to be the powerhouses for the kingdom that they are meant to be. Is this true in your case?

Finally, Jesus tells the disciples what will happen after he is put to death: “The Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done”. For the disciples, this was in the future, but for us, we already have Jesus in all his glory. But are we ready to take our place in the kingdom? Are we ready to look at things in a different way? To ignore what the world thinks in favour of the wisdom of God? To give up your life in order to find it?

Andrew Biggs 25th August 2020.

Published by andrewpbiggs

Methodist minister currently serving the Gloucestershire Circuit. Married to Julie. Enjoy reading and playing the guitar badly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: